An indefinite strike by 2.18 lakh cooks engaged with the Midday Meal Scheme (MDM) in over 70,000 primary and middle schools of Bihar has almost shut down government lunch at schools, bringing down students’ attendance.
The cooks, who get Rs 1,250 per month, have been demanding an increment in their wages citing labour law violations and also referring to examples of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, where MDM cooks are paid over 4,000 per month.
Over 2.18 lakh cooks, who had been engaged in part-time contract jobs, have been on an indefinite strike since 7 January demanding an increase in wages, payment of wages on a 12-month basis as opposed to the current 10 working months wage system.
They have been lodging protests at blocks and district offices. They have a given call for a strike under the banner of Bihar Rajya Madhyan Bhojan Rasoiya Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, which is being supported by trade unions – Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). The cooks’ association said cooks had to work for six to eight hours and a cook getting Rs 1,250 “amounted to a violation of the labour law.
Asha Kumari, a member of the cooks association from Munger, said, “Over the past few years, the salary of contract teachers and an honorarium of ASHA have gone up. We are the only group whose wages have not increased. Ours is not a part-time job”.
RK Singh, a teacher at a primary school in Banka district, said that student’s attendance in the school had gone down by 10 to 20 per cent.” We are under pressure to look for alternatives, which are not easily possible”.
MDM deputy director Jeevendra Jha, however, told The Indian Express:” MDM is a central government scheme. We are paying a cook Rs 250 per month and the Centre gives each cook Rs 1,000 per month. We have been writing to the Centre for some time about the cooks’ demands. We hope it is taken up by Centre in its next cabinet meeting”.
Asked why Bihar cannot increase its contribution, he said:” Let the Centre take its call first. We cannot commit anything at this stage”. Jha said the state government had not yet taken any initiatives to end the deadlock.